Road Trip: Friends, a “Fenomenal” Food Find and Fabric!

You may recall my appreciation for (or obsession with) road trips. I’m referring to those specific “girlfriend” trips focused on exploring fabric shops and everything quilting. Recently, the girlfriends and I hit the road again, this time heading east to Lake Tahoe and Reno.

Looks don’t do it justice!

We were only about an hour from home when we stumbled upon a most unexpected delight in downtown Davis, CA. It was about 2:00 and we were overdue for lunch. We discovered Woodstock Pizza. Davis is a college town and this place had that vibe (not exactly ladies-who-lunch style). We were standing at the counter deciding on what to order and saw that they had dessert pizzas on the menu. The waitress described them and they sounded wonderful. We were about finished with our lunch when the waitress sat a brown pizza on our table. We had no idea that sneaky Sally had ordered the Chocolate Caramel dessert pizza. It’s not the most photogenic dessert, but what it lacks in beauty is made up for in flavor! It was heaven on a plate! Imagine a perfect thin crust with a layer of warm cream cheese and crumbled, melted Snickers bar, covered with caramel and chocolate sauce. If you ever get the chance to visit a Woodstock Pizza (they’re a chain), you’ve got to try it.

Tummies satisfied, we ventured on to Reno and Lake Tahoe. The scenery, of course, is spectacular.

Emerald Bay in Lake Tahoe

In Reno, we visited our favorite quilt shop, Going Batty.  It’s open and airy, well-lit, and spacious with lots of yummy fabrics, samples, kits, books, patterns, and notions. I love the way they display their fabric bolts with the fat quarters above.

A few bolts and fat quarters from the red & pink section.

They also carry a large selection of pre-cuts (jelly rolls and layer cakes), which are a favorite of mine to use.

Love those Jelly Rolls!

There are plenty of books and patterns, samples, and ideas at Going Batty.

I love green!

The shop is also a Bernina dealer, and they carry a full selection of machines and accessories. We were admiring a sample, and one of the staff was happy to give us a demonstration of the hemming foot that was used to make it.

Another “don’t miss” is their sale section in the back of the classroom. There was lots of good stuff back there! If you’re visiting Reno or Lake Tahoe, be sure to stop by, or check out their website and blog. They’re located at 9744 S. Virginia St, Reno, NV.

It was another good time with friends – one of the pleasures in life. I wish you safe travels with your favorite friends.

PS:  We stopped at Woodstock Pizza on the way home . . .

PPS:  Don’t forget Quilting in the Garden.


What is “Why Quilts Matter”…and Why Should it Matter to You? Tell Us and Win!

Last fall, I received a request from Jan Magee, editor in chief of The Quilt Life magazine, to write a feature piece on a documentary series called Why Quilts Matter. Since I had only the vaguest awareness of the series, I decided a little research was in order, so I rounded up a copy of the series DVD and settled in to watch. I viewed the series over the course of several evenings, and…well, in a word: WOW!

Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics is a landmark nine-part documentary series that is changing the way people think about quilts. The two-DVD set includes nine episodes, approximately 26 minutes each, plus seven bonus features, for a total of 250 minutes of informative and entertaining programming. Hosted by quilt collector and author Shelly Zegart, the series was created by The Kentucky Quilt Project, Inc. and profits go to further new quilt-related study and projects.

The series showcases dozens and dozens of quilts, both vintage and new. The WQM website provides an Image Resource Guide to identify them. Eli Lilly Family Album (detail) 1847 Cotton 104″ x 105″ Gift of Louise Emerson Francke, great-great-granddaughter of Eli Lilly, Indianapolis Museum of Art Indianapolis
“Summer Echo” by Joy Saville (detail). Collection of John M. Walsh III. Photo by Joseph Coscia.

Consider these episode titles: Quilts 101: Antique and Contemporary Quilts, What is Art?, Empowering Women One Quilt at a Time, Quilt Nation—20,000,000 Strong and Counting, The Quilt Marketplace. Is this stuff relevant? You bet! Whether your passion is making quilts, collecting quilts, talking about quilts, women’s art, quilt or women’s history, you’ll find much to love, to think and to talk about in Why Quilts Matter.

The Quilts of Gee’s Bend get their own episode–Episode 5–in Why Quilts Matter. Photo courtesy of Joe Cunningham and Julie Silber.

The series is available for purchase on the Why Quilts Matter site, which also offers a special group discount (four copies or more) for guilds. Other goodies you’ll find on the site include:

  •  Additional info about the series and what’s in it (including trailers for each episode)
  •  A downloadable Image Resource Guide that gives you the details on every quilt that appears in the series (and there are loads of great quilts!)
  • A downloadable guide with great ideas for using the series as guild programming

There’s lots more on the WQM site, and new resource materials and features are always in the works. To sum it up: Why Quilts Matter will make you proud of being a quilter…period. One quilter, upon viewing the series, stated, “This series makes me proud to say that I’m a quilter. I no longer need to explain myself, or justify the importance of what I do.”

Some members of the “Quilt Nation–20,000,000 Strong,” cruising the floor at the International Quilt Festival in Houston. Photo courtesy of Quilts, Inc. and the International Quilt Festival.

You’ll love this: We’ve got a copy of the Why Quilts Matter DVD-set to give away to one lucky See How We Sew visitor! Just leave a comment to tell us (as they used to say) “in 50 words or less” why quilts matter to you. Post your comment by midnight (PDT), Wednesday, August 8, and I’ll announce the winner in my Friday, August 10 post.

A few “odds and ends” before I wrap up for today:

I’ve heard from the quilter, and my baby quilt, Hugs and Kisses from Grandpa, will be ready soon. I’ve been working on a special “go-with” at my quilting getaway this past week, and will share that (and more) in my follow-up post, soon after the quilt is delivered.

On Friday, August 10, Canadian quilter Mary Elizabeth Kinch will be stopping by as part of the blog tour for her brand-new book, Small Pieces, Spectacular Quilts, which she co-authored with Biz Storm. Mary Elizabeth will be sharing tips for sewing with, sorting, and storing those little bits of fabric, and we’ll top off the post with a giveaway! Stay tuned…

Last, but certainly not least, don’t forget to mark your calendar to come and meet all four of the See How We Sew bloggers at Quilting in the Garden at Alden Lane Nursery in September.

Christie, Jennifer, Laura, and Darra will be featured artists at Quilting in the Garden at Alden Lane Nursery in Livermore, CA, on September 22 – 23. Come see us!

That’s it for now. ‘Til next time, happy stitching!

Start Today! Take an Online Contemporary Sampler Class with Laura Nownes on The Quilt Show

I have some exciting news today! This is the opening day of my new six-part Contemporary Sampler Quilt Class online at The Quilt Show.  I’ve been working hard and having lots of fun the past few months with Alex Anderson, getting this new class ready. Our goal is to help new quilters build a solid foundation in the basics of quiltmaking. Seasoned quiltmakers will also enjoy learning new tips and brushing up on many techniques.

Alex and my daughter, Molly, did the taping while John (Alex’s husband), Mary Kay Davis, and Lilo Bowman of TQS did the behind-the-scenes technical work to put it all together. Thanks everyone!

Taping day!

This new classroom is available FREE to anyone joining (or already a member of) The Quilt Show as a Basic or Star member. You can access the classes anytime you like. Yes, this means that if you are awake at 3:00 a.m., you can wander over to the computer in your jammies and join in the fun. It’s easy and will cost you nothing but your time. So please take a minute to visit The Quilt Show’s website. Class is about to start!

Here’s a photo of the quilt I’ll be demonstrating. I must be honest with you: I started off with an entirely different collection of fabrics, but after purchasing these adorable polka dots at one of my favorite quilt shops, Back Porch Fabrics , on a recent trip to Asilomar (CA), I completely changed my direction. I love the fresh look and hope you will too.

In addition to the six-part series, I’ve put together a Resource Library that will be available on the TQS website. There you can find information on thread, sewing machines, quick-cutting techniques, terminology, and a binding demonstration. Information is also available directing you to other resources on the site that will assist you with layering, basting, and hand or machine quilting.

Just click here to sign up to be a Basic member. It’s fun and FREE. I hope to “see” you in the classroom.

One more thing: Our appearance at Quilting in the Garden is fast approaching. Be sure to save the dates. It promises to be a wonderful show!

Take care everyone.

You Should be Dancing (and Quilting)!

A behind-the scenes moment in a company of French ballet dancers captured by 19th century Impressionist Edgar Degas–do you get the idea that the red-haired dancer is the bossy one?

If our bi-weekly blog posts at See How We Sew are about sewn matters, you have every right to ask why Jennifer is squeezing in a dance-related topic. I know, I’m pushing the envelope here, but I’m pretty sure most of us who craft with needle and thread are also people of broader artful tastes.  As much as we sew, we may also act, dance, sing, or perform. Those other outlets fuel and enrich us as we create our quilts and crafts.

My thing is ballet. Yup, I don a leotard (perhaps a dance skirt as well if I happen to be channeling Terpsichore that day) and find a place at the barre for class. I’ve been following that ritual since I was 7 years old and, fingers crossed, I hope I’ll keep it up.

Sure, I do other things like pilates, yoga and cardio sessions, but there’s nothing as satisfying to me as ballet class.  Believe me, that’s saying something.  Especially nowadays when I find myself taking class with teenagers and professional dancers who could be my children—the physical contrast isn’t in my favor and it’s getting worse!

Another Degas: I confess to pink tutu love–what little girl wouldn’t want to wear one?

I wish that I could translate what I feel about dance into quilt making. So far, my attempts are rudimentary at best, especially if you contrast still images of dancers with highly skilled ballet professionals at work. Take a look at this YouTube film of an early morning class at the Royal Ballet in London—I guarantee you will be transfixed and inspired: Royal Ballet LIVE. (The heart of the class–the center work–begins around 28 minutes.) Can you see why I’m flummoxed?

Creative fodder for Lura Schwarz Smith’s award-winning “Seams Like Degas”

Even if I’m at a conceptual roadblock translating a dynamic art form into a two-dimensional format, other quilters have found ways to capture the essence of dance in their quilts.  Lura Schwarz Smith scored awards and industry acclaim with her interpretation of  Edgar Degas’ ballet paintings.  Here she echoes a quiet moment as dancers tweak their costumes backstage preparatory to dancing.

This incredible quilt “Seam Like Degas” earned inclusion in Primedia’s Top 100 Quilts of the 20th century. Click the image to visit Lura’s website and enjoy her spectacular quilts.

Caryl Bryer Fallert, another quilter who earned a spot in Primedia’s Top 100 Quilts of the 20th Century with Corona II: Solar Eclipse, also explores balletic themes. In Dancing With the Shadow #1:  Harmony, she captures some of the bravura performance moments that typically make audiences gasp as skillful dancers sustain on-pointe poses on mere breaths of music. (Go back and watch those Royal Ballet dancers at the latter half of the class–you’ll see those cherry-on-the-top moments.)

In a pair of recent quilts, Caryl explores her “Blue Period” with dancing figures using techniques she’s developed over years of experimentation. She’s figured out how to depict the feeling of movement–now we just need to add the music to complete a virtual dancing experience! (Click the images below to to learn more about each quilt from the artist.) Mind you, I’m only featuring a selection of Caryl’s dance-themed quilts. Do visit her website to enjoy more of her dance explorations–rumor has it she’s been seen on a dance floor or two as well.

Dancing Through the Blues #1 by Caryl Bryer Fallert
Dancing Through the Blues #2 by Caryl Bryer Fallert.

In Sikiel: Angel of the Sirocco featured below, Lura uses masterful piecing and applique techniques as well as digital imagery so Sikiel can dance in the wind on almost-transparent streams of air. Her quilt reminds me of childhood moments traveling in the backseat of the family car when I’d stick my hand out the window so the racing wind could lift it like an airplane’s wing.

Hmm, I think Lura and Caryl have given me much to think about when I decide to tackle my dance-themed quilt. In the meantime, though, I’ll be doing what I’ve done every summer in recent memory. I plunk myself down in front of the TV with a little handwork and watch my guilty pleasure:  So You Think You Can Dance, although I’m going to add something else to my dance viewing this year. Ballet in Cinema is offering worldwide audiences the opportunity to see performances of the Royal Ballet and the Bolshoi Ballet at local movie theaters.  Consider this–watch the YouTube of the Royal Ballet first and then catch some of those very same dancers in performance at your cinema.

Until next time, remember we’ll be strutting our stuff (not dancing, though) at Quilting in the Garden in September . . . and, before closing,  my thanks to Lura and Caryl who generously allowed me access to their quilts to feature in this post.

Giving Back….with a Lot of Help from My Friends

One of the stars of the “Stitchin’ for Kids” project

Last December I wrote about the Stitchin’ for Kids project, established by my friend Caroline Archer; it’s a program that provides dolls for girls who are hospitalized with serious illnesses. I’m delighted to report that the program is going strong, with now more than 200 dolls donated to three children’s hospitals here in the San Francisco Bay Area. You should see the number of outfits that are brought in to our monthly “Doll Days” at The Cotton Patch in Lafayette, CA! Caroline pins them to the wall so we can admire the creativity and love that goes into every piece. Here are two examples of the beautiful work done by Caroline and her group of volunteers:

Hand knit sweater and cap to match the skirt and top.
For the well-dressed doll: coordinating pants, blouse and jacket.

Along with the doll, each recipient is given ten doll outfits, including pants, sweaters, blouses, dresses, skirts, pajamas, and robe. Caroline is always looking for more volunteers to sew doll clothes and would love to see the program expanded to other hospitals in different parts of the country. If you’re interested, you can contact Caroline directly via email at

My little band of quilting buddies (we tried our hand at making doll clothes but weren’t very good at it) makes quilts. These little treasures, which are delivered to the hospitals each spring and fall along with the dolls, are just for the boys! Here’s a top that was made recently:

All the quilts are made with bright, primary-colored fabrics with boy designs (cars, trucks, airplanes, animals)–anything that’s fun to look at and very colorful! Here’s a closer look at one my favorite fabrics:

This one has planes, boats and a bus.

Check out my June 21, 2011 post and the pattern library for additional photos, fabric requirements, and pattern instructions. The feedback we’ve received from the child-life specialists at the hospitals is so positive. The quilts not only add much-needed color to the boys’ rooms, but the designs in the fabrics give both the boys and their parents something to look at and talk about.

I’m touched by the generosity of my friends who  donate their time and resources to support this program.  Each quilt is cut, sewn, quilted, and bound with great care and love. These women donate beautiful fabrics (they’ll tell you how picky I am!) so that each quilt is as colorful and fun as the next! Two weeks ago, my friend Nancy hosted eight of us at her home on a Sunday afternoon. We had pre-cut kits, so everyone gathered at her kitchen table and pieced the tops. We finished thirteen tops that day – I was thrilled! It was a delightful afternoon spent with talented women doing something we all enjoyed. It doesn’t get much better than that.

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me in this endeavor – you’re the best!

And don’t forget to mark your calendar for Quilting in the Garden:

From Photo to Quilt: Inspiration in Your Pocket!

My little camera goes with me everywhere.

Today’s post will be short on words and long on photos  as I’m packing up to head off with good friends Alex Anderson and Joen Wolfrom for our annual quilting getaway. Without a doubt, my camera will be along for the ride.

Aren’t these little cameras amazing? They’re capable of taking terrific photos that you can view instantly, and they’re tiny enough to tuck into a pocket or purse. I carry mine everywhere. I never know when I’ll spot inspiration for my next fabric adventure.

Sometimes a photo will yield an idea for a block, border, or overall design.

Interesting possibilities lurk in the brickwork and windows of this campus building at San Jose State University.
I stumbled upon this amazing piece of “yard art” in Mendocino, CA. Lots of cool shapes. Inspiration for a contemporary crazy quilt, perhaps?
We hold our See How We Sew brainstorming meetings at a local cafe, where this upholstery dresses the booth benches. Can’t you see this dimensional pattern as a quilt?
Another upholstery pattern from our gathering place

Often I’ll experiment with a photo-inspired design on a small scale–perhaps one of my 3″ x 5″ little quilts–before moving on to something larger. It’s a great way to work out the kinks before jumping into a major project.

Little Circles, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson…can you see the connection?

My photo adventures often open my eyes to new ways of seeing; for example, an unexpected perspective, an instructive play of value, an interesting composition.

I’m inspired by images that give you the sense that you are observing something while remaining unobserved…a secret treasure.
Through the Barn Door: Pierce Point Farmhouse, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
A lesson in perspective: Napa County, CA, in spring; the rows of grapevines appear to narrow as they march into the distance.
Siverado Spring, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
The Blue Ridge of North Carolina; the more distant the mountains, the fainter and more misty they appear.
Homesick for the Blue Ridge, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m drawn to serene, vertical compositions.
Winter Sentinels, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
Looking Up, 3″ x 5″, by Darra Williamson
I like the simple “four-patch” arrangement of this print that I snapped recently in a hotel room.
The Four Seasons, 12″ x 16″, by Darra Williamson. Now halfway through my self-declared “year of creativity,” I’m starting to bump my experiments to a larger size.

I’ve always that felt my greatest weakness as a quilter is figuring out how to quilt my finished quilt top. Since I’ve been carrying my camera, I’ve been finding inspiration everywhere.

A decorative exterior wall in Calistoga, CA: Glorious inspiration for quilting AND applique!
Interesting carved pattern frames this stonework Buddha.
Simple, attractive architectural detail: I can imagine adapting the above-window trim of this charming Mendocino, CA, cottage to quilt sashing or setting triangles.

I can’t take credit for the next three photos, but I couldn’t resist, as they are sooooo very rich in quilting inspiration. They were taken by my dear friend and co-author Chris Porter on a recent teaching trip to Kuwait.

Kuwait 2012; photo by Chris Porter
Doorway in Kuwait; photo by Chris Porter
Doorway in Kuwait (detail); photo by Chris Porter

For those of you looking for the follow-up to my baby-quilt post, I’m waiting for the quilt to come back from the quilter. Meantime, I’m making a little “bonus” project using the same basic pattern. I hope to be ready by my next (July 27) post.

That’s it for now. ‘Til next time, happy (snapping and) stitching!

PS:  Don’t forget!

I Stand Corrected: Sue Uncovered

Hi everyone: I was planning to write about something different today but decided instead to share with you an interesting bit of information that recently came my way. Shortly before I posted about the “Holly Hobbie” quilt I put together for my niece, I wrote to Kim Bunchuck ( I thought the pattern to be Holly as it was made in the ’70s by my mother-in-law for her granddaughter, Holly. It looked suspiciously like Sunbonnet Sue to me, so I wrote to Kim hoping for some expert advice. Since I didn’t hear back from her before the post went live, I simply went with Holly. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Kim providing me with the source of the pattern. I just checked on her blog to see that she has posted my note and question regarding the pattern. Don’t you just love how this all works?

Here’s her response:

“This pattern was designed by the famous Jinny Beyer. Attached is the copy of the article from Quilters Newsletter magazine in 1975 (It took me a while to find it). The pattern was published at the height of the Holly Hobbie craze, but Jinny Beyer still called the pattern Sunbonnet Sue. I hope this copy helps.”  Kim Cronin

Page from Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine featuring Jinny Beyer’s Sunbonnet Sue pattern.

I was surprised to learn that Jinny was the designer of this pattern, featured in Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine in 1975. (I had a good chuckle when I read the footer in the bottom right hand corner of the page: “Modern Quilting.”) I was a newbie quilter in 1979 and clearly remember loving Jinny’s books. I still have them, dog ears and all! They are my go-to books when I am hunting for a particular pattern. Her updated version of Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns by Breckling Press now has more than 4,000 blocks along with new instructional tools to let you draft the blocks in any size.

The Quilter’s Album of Patchwork Patterns by Jinny Beyer.

Many thanks to those of you who took time to post comments in response to my post on Sue Rasmussen. The lucky winner of Sue’s book is Debbie St. Germain.

Take care everyone. Hope you are all enjoying your summer.

Have a Summertime “Bling” Fling With a Fast-&-Easy Earring Project

Of course, I love the satisfaction of a completed quilt project (2 in June–yeah!), but chances are there’s no way to start and finish something “quilty” in 5 minutes for less than $15 dollars. Yes, I agree, Darra’s postcards and bookmarks are super quick at perhaps 30 minutes and virtually free if you’re stash busting to create them. It’s just that jewelry making is top of my list for super-fast crafting satisfaction (plus you can wear your handiwork).

Crystal bedecked bling balls are my current obsession. Witness the 3 pairs of earrings I’ve made since May. New outfit, new earrings—why not?

I’ve got stepped-out photos below to show you the building process for fast & easy earrings like the cobalt blue pair featured above, but you’ll need basic jewelry-making skills and supplies for wire wrapping. Don’t sweat it if you lack tools. There’s actually a ridiculously easy, no-tool approach to make bling-ball earrings described as well.

Thunder brand bling balls are available through beading retailers and online resources. They come in a range of sizes and colors.

The No-Assembly-Required Bling Ball Earrings

Baby pink bling balls on silver ear threaders–how easy is that? No tools, just thread the beads onto the strand of chain and adorn yourself.

Check out the ear threaders with “ball ends” pictured above*–they are widely available at bead stores. All you’ll need for the no-tools approach is one pair of threaders with ball ends, bling balls, silver or gold balls to match to the ball ends, and earring plugs to keep the earrings safely affixed to your ears. The plugs are invaluable as well to keep the loose bling balls and the little accent balls from sliding off the threaders when you store your earrings. (You’ll see the semi-transparent plug visible just on the other side of the front-facing bling ball.) Earring assembly is easy:  slide every thing on and slip the filled threaders through your ear piercings.

*Marina at House of Beads, my local bead shop, made the earrings.

The Assembly-Required Bling Ball Earrings

Supplies:  Pairs of silver or gold wire earring bases, bling balls, and head pins. Add 4 tiny accent balls, 3 to 4 inches of smaller-gauge chain, and standard jewelry-making tools like wire cutters and pliers (round, flat-nosed etc).

Step 1:  Thread one head pin with a tiny ball, bling ball, and then another tiny ball. Repeat for the other head pin.

Step 2:  Secure units with deft twists of the head pins following your preferred wire-wrap technique. Do not close the loops yet.

Use round-nose pliers.

Step 3:  Slide the open end of the head pin loop through the last link of the length of chain. Repeat the step for the other head  pin. Use your wire-wrap technique to close the loop.

Step 4:  Determine the desired length of chain and snip it to that measurement. Repeat for the other end.

Step 5:  Slide the endmost link of the chain onto the still-opened loop of the earring base and close with pliers. Repeat for the other earring.

Step 6:  Like the no-tool bling ball earrings, grab some plugs to safeguard your handiwork and slip on the finished earrings. You’ll be a sparkling fashion sensation!

Before I close, I’d like to give you a sneak peak at a special event for See How We Sew coming up in late September. Check our announcement below and, if you live in the region or are planning to travel to Northern California in the fall, stop by and say hello! Click the image for details.

Hope to see ya’ll bedecking yourselves in sparkly bling balls–till next time . . .

July Block of the Month and Happy Birthday USA!

I thought it would be fitting to start with a special birthday block this month to celebrate the 4th of July holiday here in the United States. So here’s my tribute, all wrapped up in Block 7:

In addition to our guest block, we have our regulars. First up for July is the citron/gray sample:

And here’s the July block using Kathy Davis’ Happiness line and a great Kaffe Fassett dot:

Notice there’s either joy or happiness in each of these blocks. Click here to download the instruction sheet for the July block (instruction sheets for all of the earlier blocks can be found in our Pattern Library). I’ve decided July is my favorite of all the blocks. Let me know what month you like best so far.  We only have two more to go, so if you’re behind, it’s time to catch up.  Or, in the case of my sister Janice, who’s making her quilt in holiday fabrics, it’s time to start!!

Thank you to everyone who shared your reasons for wanting to win the new 2012-2014 edition of the Quilters’ Travel Companion from the giveaway in my June 19th post. There were so many good ones. I hope those of you who didn’t win will go out and buy a copy like I did – it’s a great resource. The one lucky winner who doesn’t have to buy her own copy is Margaret Fritz. Congratulations!

Take care and enjoy the holiday.